Make Your Own Scented Liquid Soap – Cheap and Quick

For good or for ill, it’s Bath & Body Works season, L’Occitane season, Anthropologie season, Savon de Marseille season. It’s fancy-soap-with-fancy-smells season, and even my normally bare-bones, ascetic sensibilities when it comes to home and self care can loft a bit to the girly side. But not $32 plus $6 shipping for a 2 cups of hand soap girly. I mean there’s girly and then there’s just plain stupid.

You probably go out of your way to use environmentally friendly hand soap. I know some readers make their own, and others love Dr. Bonners in bulk or brands like Method. Using stuff you probably already have on hand for the obligatory cookie decorating that also marks this time of year, you can turn less-inexpensive bulk liquid soap into fancy-pants, seasonal-scented hand soap.

Here’s how:

You’ll need:

  • big ol’ bulk bottle of unscented dish or hand soap*
  • food flavoring extract (vanilla, peppermint, almond, cinnamon, etc.)^
  • food coloring
Basically, you just mix a bit of extract and coloring into your soap. But here’s a few tips. First, figure out what volume of vessel you’re filling. You don’t want to end up with 8 cups of soap and nowhere to put it. My squeeze bottles hold 16 oz. – 2 cups and I’ll be diluting the soap 1-to-1 with water.
Measure 1 cup liquid dish soap into a bowl or 2 cup (or larger) measuring container. Add 1 tablespoon extract and food coloring. It’s fun to play around with blending the colors to get the right shade for your soap. But go easy – a little food coloring goes a long way. It is a good idea to use toothpicks dipped in the food coloring to add a bit at a time until you know about how much coloring you’ll want.

My toddler wants that green blob from tinting the peppermint soap:

Here’s a drop of red for some cinnamon-scented soap:

Stir gently and check the scent and color. If you prefer that either be stronger, add another tablespoon of extract or another drop or two of coloring. Here’s the coloring being incorporated into the cinnamon-scented soap.

Dilute the soap to a hand-happy strength. The dish soap I use needs to be diluted by about half, so I add a cup of water gently to the soap mix and bottle. The base soap you start with may need more or less (or no) additional water.

You can bottle in commercial plastic squeeze bottles (here’s the cinnamon):

Or reuse an old glass bottle fitted with a pour spout (here’s the peppermint):

I did a batch of vanilla, too, just to show you the color when you add a few tablespoons vanilla extract (naturally brown and so suited only to the amber-tones of soap) and a drop of yellow coloring. It has the color quality of either warm honey or fresh pee, depending on how you look at these things. This is bottled in an old gin bottle, cause that’s how we roll:
Speaking of honey, you can – optionally – add in a tablespoon of warmed honey (so it mixes well) and/or olive oil to the soap. These additions give the soap a more opaque look but also in my opinion improve the hand feel and moisturizing quality of what is, let’s face it, pretty cheap soap. Plus you can get all Martha and label your soap “honey-vanilla” or “honey-mint,” or something, thereby conferring on your DIY soap the same marketing advantages enjoyed by the $32 soap. Just make sure not to make a big batch full of honey and oil soap, since it won’t keep forever, and it tends to benefit from a good shake before use.
Whatever scent you use, I’ve noticed that it will “mature” over the first few days after it’s mixed with the soap, smelling stronger after a day or two than it did initially.
There you have it: the fastest, easiest, cheapest way to customize up your own fancy-pants soap with stuff you already have around the house. 
*A note about soap: I refilled the same Method plastic pump containers of hand soap for about 3 years. I would refill my hand soap into those little teardrop-shaped containers and refill my bulk liquid dish soap into plastic squeeze bottles. One day it hit me that I was randomly using the hand soap to wash dishes, and using the dish soap to wash my hands. The soaps were so indistinguishable in form and function that it did not really matter which was used for what.
That’s when I got smart and pared down to a single type of liquid soap. Eliminate redundancy! If multiple functions can be achieved well with a single product, toss the other stuff and free up some shelf space. That’s how I came to use cheap-o but good-o Costco-brand environmentally friendly dish soap for pretty much all my cleaning needs outside of the laundry room or shower.
Between the cooking and the gardening, I fully admit to abusing the delicate skin of my hands, so my tolerance for literal dish soap hands might be greater than yours.


^A note about flavoring extracts: vanilla extract is the best known, and will work, but will limit your color choices to something in the amber range since it, itself, is brown. Light colored or clear extracts like peppermint or cinnamon or almond leave the soap clearer and give you more options for color. 

Artificial and natural extracts are available online, in grocery stores and in wholesale food stores in a surprising rance of soap-friendly scents: lemon, lime, almond, orange, anise, apricot, apple, etcetera are all out there if you start looking around. You’ll find them in conventional and organic variations and in wide price range. 
I’d start with the extracts you already have or you’d use anyway for baking rather than buying a food extract for soap scenting. If you decide you like this technique, you can invest in dedicated soap fragrance and essential oil blends which will get the scenting job done. But for now, isn’t it fun to use stuff you already have? I had peppermint, which is good for the holidays, what with the candy cane association, and cinnamon, so that’s what I used here.
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  1. says

    So how do you make the soaps that foam? I have a couple of seasonal bottles I have received over the years but they are the foam soap kind. Is it just a dilution of the soap? Is there a ratio of soap:water etc? Vanilla is extremely popular around here except for me. I prefer citrus scents.

    • Paula says

      Hey Elizabeth, I just found this site today (Jan. 4, 2013) just in case you haven’t gotten an answer to your question about the soap to water ratio, I make my own liquid foaming hand soap using 3 tablespoons of liquid Castile soap and about 8 ounces of water, I just put the 3 tablespoons of soap right in the dispenser and fill it to up with distilled water screw the pump on, shake it and it’s ready to use. And if you wish to use some fragrance and or food coloring it will probably still foam, I have added essential oil but not the coloring and it still foamed.

  2. Lacy says

    If you'd like vanilla scent without the color-try vanilla oil. Market Spice sells an edible vanilla oil that is fantastic. The smell is stronger and it is a more concentrated flavor for cooking! A few drops will go a long way.

  3. says

    Elizabeth, yes it's just a dilution and the foaming action is usually in the mechanism of the pump. You should be fine to go ahead and experiment with some batches of these soaps.

  4. Anonymous says

    Nice trick! Liquid soap is the one kind I have not mastered.

    I highly recommend The Essential Oil Company for a variety of essential and fragrance oils ( I've bought from them for 13 years now and you can get buy lavender, rosemary, juniperberry etc oils remarkably cheaply.


  5. says

    I often use essential oils for sents. They are fairly inexpensive, and more consentrated, so they stretch further. I also use a couple drops in mop water. I often use vinegar and homemade soap to clean my floors and counters since I am allergic to sodium laural sulfate.

  6. Mick says

    My wife bought a snowman container of peppermint hand soap two or three years ago and I really like how fresh it made my hands smell. The problem is, it only comes out during the holidays. Now, with this info, I can enjoy the holiday season all year. Thank you.

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